A Plague of Wizards – Chapter 18 Excerpt

The lizzie servant finished painting Terra’s face, half red and half black.  Terra added a yellow circle on each of her cheekbones.  Then the servant slicked back the girl’s hair, which had grown long enough to cover her scars, using fragrant plant oil. This allowed her to arrange the feathered headdress on the Terra’s head.

The young human girl arrived at the dining room and took her seat.  Though it was almost filled with lizzie nobles, the king had not yet arrived, and no one would get any food until one of his wives had fed him.  The human girl had only sat for a minute or so when her stomach let out a loud growl.  The female lizzies on either side of her tried to look without turning their heads towards her.

Terra turned to look over her left shoulder at the sound of people arriving.  In marched the queens: first Szakhandu, followed by Tokkenoht, Sirris, and finally Ssu.  The first three took their seats, while Ssu went to the food table to begin assembling the king’s meal.  Hsrandtuss at last stomped in.  He looked unusually sober.  As he walked to his seat, he looked toward Terra, and spotting her, threw a gesture toward her that the girl had never seen.  Suddenly uneasy, remembering Bessemer’s comments that the great lizzie might be looking for a new wife, she gave him a simple wave.  He took his seat just as Ssu brought him his dinner.

Now that the king had been fed, females from around the room got up to prepare meals for their males, or in a few cases just for themselves.  Terra fit into the latter category and picked up a bronze tray, filling it from the food table.

“Tsaua, Kaetarrnaya.”

Terra looked to see Hsrandtuss’s High Priestess/Queen standing next to her.

“You should try some of these fruit.  I hear humans enjoy them.”

“Yes.  We call them grapes.”  She grabbed a bunch and tossed it onto her tray next to three roasted birds that she had already acquired.

“I have something for you,” said Tokkenoht.  “I got it from the human traders.”

She handed Terra a little wooden box, about an inch wide and two inches long, with a sliding lid.

“What is it?”

“It is daksuu.  It is for your food.”

The human girl slid the box open to find it filled with what looked like fine gravel or very course sand. She held it to her face and stuck her tongue in.

“Salt!  Kafira bless you a thousand times.”

Tokkenoht nodded.

“Can I ask you something? When he came in, the Great King made a gesture toward me that I’ve never seen.  It was like this.”  She recreated the gesture.

“That is a warrior sign. It means victory.”

“Oh, good.  Then he doesn’t want to marry me.”

Tokkenoht burst into a hissing fit that was the lizzie equivalent of an uncontrollable belly laugh.

“That would never work,” she said, still struggling to get control of herself.  “It simply would not physiologically work.”  Suddenly she stopped and looked toward the king.  “Then again, such an alliance would be unprecedented and very valuable, even if it was not a real marriage.”

Terra leaned on the table, as her head swam.

“Don’t worry. Hsrandtuss knows humans better than anyone else.  You’re hut… your family would never allow such a thing, would they?”

“I’m quite sure they would not.”

“It would mean war?”

“Maybe.  In any case, it would bring Hsrandtuss nothing but hatred. And I would certainly be disowned.”

“Hsrandtuss knows this. You have nothing to fear. Besides, the other wives would have to approve of you, and I would not have a human zrant as the wife of my husband.”

Terra realized that she had been insulted just as she set her plate in front of her seat.  She climbed into her chair and looked at her meal—a huge feast of roasted birds, grilled fish, grapes, and what she was fairly sure was some kind of white asparagus.

Just then, the door opened at the far end of the room and two lizzies were marched in, both wrapped in chains and escorted by a dozen warriors.  They walked morosely to stand before the king.

“What is the meaning of this?” growled Hsrandtuss, looking at one of the guards.

“We were told to bring them before you, Great King.”

Hsrandtuss deftly hopped over the table.

“Get these chains off them!”

The warriors hurried to follow his command, but it took a minute.  As they worked, the lizzie king continued speaking.

“King Oreolock of Xecheon, please excuse the rudeness of this meeting.  These fools understood the meaning of my order, but not the manner. My intention was to invite you to dine with me.  That reminds me.”  He looked over his shoulder.  “Sirris, Tokkenoht, get food for our guests.”  He looked back to see Oreolock, clearly at a loss as to what to do or say. As the last chain fell away, Hsrandtuss put his arm around the smaller king’s shoulders and led him around the table to a spot left of his own.

Terra realized at the last second that the seat for which the defeated king was destined was directly opposite hers.  As he sat down, Oreolock looked up and saw her—starting.

“That is Kaetarrnaya. She is my tiny human.  You will know you are a great king when you have your own tiny human.”

Terra threw a gesture at him that, which was technically the same as the one he had given, only with the hand facing the other direction.  It would have, at home, gotten her face slapped by her mother or auntie.

“Like this!” said Hsrandtuss, give her the victory sign.

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